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Getting Started in Freelance Writing: Key Tips from Marketing Mentor Ilise Benun

Marketing Mentor Ilise Benun shares a few tips on for getting started in freelance writing — a topic she'll address in greater detail in her indieLAB session on what it takes to forge a successful writing career of any kind.

Marketing Mentor Ilise Benun shares a few tips on for getting started in freelance writing — a topic she'll address in greater detail in her indieLAB session on what it takes to forge a successful writing career of any kind.

I've had the pleasure of working with the brilliant Ilise Benun for about five years now. During my time as online content director and editor-in-chief of HOW design magazine, a career-centric publication for graphic designers, llise was a regular contributor, providing savvy advice on personal branding, marketing yourself and your work, managing your career like a business and earning more money as a freelance designer. In addition to being a business coach and adjunct faculty at Maryland Institute College of Art, she is a Program Partner for HOW Design Live and the host two podcasts, her Marketing Mentor Podcast and The HOW Design Live podcast.

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And make no mistake—Ilise's expertise goes well beyond graphic design. Whether you're a writer or an author looking to build your platform, market your books or self-publish, or you're interested in getting into freelance writing, Ilise's insights on and in her seven business books, including The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money, steer entrepreneurial writers toward more lucrative and strategic career paths.

That's why we invited her to speak at indieLAB (September 29–30 in Cincinnati) and share some of her insights in a special LAB that will help writers understand their worth and reimagine their careers with a more entrepreneurial mindset.

Here, Ilise shares a few tips on for getting started in freelance writing — a topic she'll address in greater detail in her indieLAB session on what it takes to forge a successful writing career of any kind.

What are the first steps for writers who want to do freelance writing work, but lack connections and experience?

First of all, don’t stress about what you don’t have. Focus instead of what you do have—namely experience. For example, a landscape designer who wants to be a copywriter can bring that history and knowledge to the industry to write about it. Likewise, an x-ray technician getting into freelance copywriting understands the equipment, the manufacturers of which probably need stronger, more benefit-oriented writing for their sales materials or web site.

Keep in mind also that everything you write is an example of your writing, especially if you don’t have a big impressive portfolio. So the summary section of your LinkedIn Profile and every email message you send is an opportunity to show how well you write.

Then, go out—literally—and talk to people. Attend networking events, meet ups and trade shows. Spend the day in a coffee shop where people are working and start up conversations. Find small business owners (they’re everywhere!) who need help with their marketing. That inevitably involves writing. Find out what they need—web copy, brochure copy, sales copy, white papers, content marketing and blog posts. If you can help, offer to do so. Then all you have to do is negotiate a deal (that’s what my session will teach you) and you’ve got a client!

The 12 Best and Worst Things That Could Happen After Your Freelance Article Is Accepted

What are three things you should always include in a freelance writing contract?

  1. A deadline—even if they don’t have one, you should make one. Otherwise, things don’t get finished.
  2. The fee you agreed to—especially if it was agreed to verbally. People often forget or misunderstand, so stating it clearly in writing will put everyone at ease.
  3. A paragraph that stipulates what will happen if something changes, such as a “kill fee” whether the project changes or grows or is cancelled.

How important is it for a freelance writer to build a personal brand? How can you ensure that your brand is unique?

If you don’t want to be a blur in the eyes of your ideal clients, then you must have a personal brand. And that brand is what makes you different from other writers. What is it that makes you stand out? You may not know but others do. Don’t wrack your brain to come up with it yourself. This is a listening exercise more than anything. Listen to the compliments you receive. Instead of blushing, try to understand what others appreciate about you. Is it your ability to clarify the complex? Is it your quick mind? Is it your reliability and the fact that you’ve never missed a deadline? It may have nothing to do with your writing. It could be about how you work. Mine any recommendations or testimonials you’re received to find language to integrate into your brand. (Here's an excellent article about personal brands for freelancers.)

What are some ways freelancers can improve their chances of success when pitching to big-name publications?

The 3 Ps are the keys to successful pitching (and much more).

  • Personalization: Tailor every pitch to show you’ve done your homework and are a perfect fit for the publication.
  • Persistence: Don’t give up after just one try. It takes many efforts to even get someone’s attention in the first place, much less get them to respond. So you have to follow up and pitch over and over, often in the face of silence, without being discouraged and without assuming you’re being rejected.
  • Patience: Because timing is everything—your pitch has to land at the moment when they’re open. So the more often you reach out, the more likely the timing will be right and your name will be familiar and therefore trustworthy. That’s what it takes—but that takes time!

Can you give us a brief preview of what you’ll be talking about at indieLAB?

My hands-on lab session will focus on what it takes to build the confidence to be a successful writer. There’s a lot of internal work that has to take place, plus some very practical skills to learn. Most writers haven’t had the training in these skills but somehow think they should already know them, especially when it comes to pricing and talking about money.

So I’m going to show attendees how to determine their value to each client (because it’s different from client to client) and then what to say to secure the best deal. Plus, I’ll share the seven small, but lethal, negotiating mistakes made most often (and what to do instead).

In the hands-on part of my session, we will price a sample project together in real time, then share that info to see how others are pricing too. It promises to be fun!

Follow Ilise on Twitter @ilisebenun and sign up for her Quick Tips at, and don't miss her workship at indieLAB in Cincinnati, Septemeber 29–30, 2018!

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